EKU football adapting to changes due to COVID-19 pandemic

Daryl McCleskey breaks a tackle in a game last season against Tennessee Tech at Roy Kidd Stadium. 

The Eastern Kentucky University football team was gearing up for the annual Maroon and White spring game on April 18, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic all football activities have been canceled.

First-year head coach Walt Wells said it was a matter of time before the university and the NCAA would have made the decision to stop all spring football activities and practices.

“With that, you’re obviously disappointed because you want to get out on the field and work with your guys and for us as a new staff, we’re all new except for coach Morrison, and just see where we’re at,” Wells said. 

Wells and his staff are concerned for their players’ health and hope that they stay healthy during this pandemic so they can finish the semester strong and get ready for the football season.

“First and foremost we are worried about our players' health, EKU community’s health and our fans,” Wells said.

Wells said that he wants his team and staff to handle this situation better than everyone else in the FCS so they will have an advantage when football season comes around in the fall.

“Everybody in the country is going through the same thing so it’s not like it’s pinpointed at us,” Wells said.

Wells said his players are doing well dealing with the pandemic and finding ways to stay in shape during the quarantine.

“A lot of them are being creative in how they are getting their workouts in,” Wells said. “Doing some band [resistance] workouts. I had a couple of them pushing trucks, a couple of them flipping logs and guys doing what they can do in the areas they are at. Some areas are less restrictive than others but a lot of them are more restrictive than others.”

Staying in communication with his players has been important for Wells during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Each and every one of them is dealing with it in a certain way, but we’ve been in contact with each guy everyday and just trying to motivate them and keep them upbeat,” he said. “It’s one of those situations where they are disappointed but they are handling it well.”

Wells said they have had to be resourceful at times since this is a new situation they have never had to deal with before.

Making sure his players are keeping up with their academics is another concern for Wells during this pandemic.

“My biggest worry was academics. Monika [Banbel] over in the Bratzke Center has done a great job,” Wells said. “It’s just like coaching, we’ll see what happens when we finish. She was organized and on it and me and her were communicating with Jake Johnson who is my liaison for academics. We were making sure everybody had internet access where they were going. We made sure everybody had computers and we put a plan together for the guys at risk and the guys not at risk.”

Wells and his coaching staff made sure players had the resources they needed to finish the semester and complete their required work. He said they have daily ZOOM meetings to monitor their teams’ academic performance.

“It’s been a process, but something you have to adapt too,” Wells said. 

Wells is not sure when his team will be able to hit the field again to start preparing for the upcoming season, but hopes by the end of April he will know more and be able to have a clear picture about the road ahead.

The Colonels are using this time to handle their class work while also finding time to workout so once they can return to EKU they can hit the ground running with their eyes set on the start of the season on Sept. 5 against Western Carolina at Roy Kidd Stadium.

“It’s just like a game, you’ll be up a touchdown and then down a touchdown. You’re going to be driving and fumble or throw an interception or you’re going to give up a big score. You got to stay even keeled and try to come up with a plan,” he said.

The first-year head coach said he has been in communication with other head coaches at other schools around the country and schools where he has connections with to learn how they are handling the situation. Wells said he has even shared his team’s ideas with other coaches.

“It’s been an adverse start at times,” Wells said. “You just have to make that an opportunity and this is a situation for us to show our players how much we really do care about them. It’s a situation for our players to show us and the rest of their teammates how accountable they are to each other.”

As of publication, Wells said that no one on the EKU football team has COVID-19, but he said “there may be some guys on our team that may have it [COVID-19] in their family and they are dealing with that and we are praying for them.”

Wells thanked the healthcare workers, doctors and nurses for their hard work and dedication battling the Coronavirus.

It is still unknown how long the COVID-19 pandemic will continue for and whether or not it will impact the start of the college football season in the fall, but Wells and the Colonel football team are looking at the positives and hoping for a smooth transition.

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